Today is Brexit Day. Theresa May will formally trigger Article 50, and the UK will leave the EU.
Just writing the words makes me sigh. It’s hard not to feel confused, let down, bitter and upset. I remember when the EU referendum was announced. It seemed one of the stupider pledges of Cameron’s campaign to follow up on. Why would anybody want to leave the EU? Surely that’s something the most racist and right-wing members of the Conservatives would want to bring into question?
Recollecting the events leading up to the referendum is like recalling a waking dream or a bad nightmare. There was never a clear reason to Leave that wasn’t thinly-disguised racism or xenophobia. Remembering how the Leave campaign instead turned to lies and random platitudes. Brexit Means Brexit. Taking Back Control. Something About Borders. It was meaningless, but it was catchy – and far more quotable than the sense of the Remainers. Bland experts and economists were drafted in, but too late. The Remain campaign were too quiet, failing to be impassioned enough until too late. Labour were a largely absent voice.
The media were either taken aback by the force of the Leave campaign or horribly biased. The far right had a field day: institutions previously regarded as a joke went to ever more outlandish extremes in a bid for attention. The Daily Mail, UKIP, Boris Johnson, Katie Hopkins: national jokes that became prominent voices, afforded huge swathes of trust and faith and airtime. Or how the BBC were inches away from inviting Britain First on Question Time.
It is horrible to remember how quickly racist attacks and discrimination became normal. Unsurprisingly it turned out the Leave campaign had no facts, no policies. The 350million on the bus was never going to the NHS. How galling it was to see low-income communities around the country vote Leave. Too late they realised how much EU funding they had been dependent on for years. Theresa May turned up with precisely no plans or agendas to leave the EU with. She buggered off to meet Trump and failed to pin down any ideas for deals with the EU. There was a court case to remind her how parliament works.
Families were divided, friends split apart, whole communities split down the middle. I think of many of my friends, yet to speak to their Leave-voting family members. Nobody remained neutral. Young vs old, cities vs country, Scotland vs England. There was no middle ground. It turned out people were motivated by the colour of passports, by imperial measuremements, by shillings. As it happens, racism had been everywhere in plain sight: the result to Leave unleashed it. We went to see my boyfriends family on the day of the referendum result; we were greeted into the town by a huge “Vote Leave” sign. Twenty minutes later some white woman in a tracksuit told me to “get out of the country” whilst we walked around Sainsburys. So mundane, so commonplace. A perfectly British racism. It had been there all along. Who knew?
Most of my generation live in fear, disgust and confusion for what comes next. Once we overcome sourcing a Visa in order to travel, will we even be able to show our faces when trying to enter the EU? Living standards are set to drastically decrease for everybody in this country, excepting only the very top tier of rich people. EU citizens who have been here for decades are offered no way to stay. Young people are desperate to move out of the country. Of my core university friend group I am one of just two still in the UK.
Nine months on there has been no healing. Brexiteers are still heady with gloating and power and glee, Remainers still confused and let down. No move to acknowledge the loss, to heal the wounds. All voices have been ignored; low-income villages, young people, scientists, economists, Scotland. We march blindly into no deals at all to be left with nothing. Europe, ultimately, will take back control and dictate the new rules to us. In all my questioning, in all my attempts to understand, I am still overwhelmingly left with questions. No coherent, logical argument has been offered. What can we do? Mourn. Support Scottish independence. Continue to re-iterate that we wanted to Remain. Laugh and joke all day long on Twitter in renewed solidarity. Hope for associative citizenship in the future, or hope this doesn’t result in a war? Seriously, what can we do?